Current position: enjoying a well earned sit down and hot choccie treat in a cafe underneath the rolling valleys of the Frans Josef and Fox glaciers. We have basically walked or cycled everyday for the last two weeks and have an overnight walk planned for tomorrow to some hot pools. I am exhausted! And even Chicken has admitted to ‘feeling a little weary’ so we clearly have been busy! Making the most of our two weeks we have left. (14th June).
So this blog sees us travel around the south island of New Zealand as if it were no bigger than the Isle of Wight. We have had such an incredible time since we ferried over from Wellington and it is just too hard to write about everyhing here. What I can do is try to give you a summary and some highlights.
The South Island
The first highlight would have to be mountain biking the Queen Charlotte Track in the northernmost Sounds of the country. We biked and camped for two nights and three days and I will admit that this is most definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done – I think it even beats our ascent of the 6088m Huyuna Potosi summit in Bolivia. I’m pretty good on a bike but have never really ‘mountain biked’ as such and we were thrown right in with wet, slippery conditions, several steep ascents followed by bumpy, rocky descents and to top it all, tenting it and getting a wee bit tired from all the exertion. It took a lot of concentration but was absolutely brilliant and Chicken informs me, had we had top of the range bikes it would have been much easier, of course!
A tui, which has an incredible call, and below, a wren.
We nailed it down south to Fiordland in a day and a half in order to complete two more Great Walks before the wardens closed down the huts for winter at the end of April. The Routeburn and the Keplar.
The Routeburn Flats during a brief parting of the clouds on day one.
Sadly we had terrible, cloudy, wet weather for the Routeburn so there’s not a lot to say about that but we lucked out on the Keplar and had some fantastic blue skies intermittent with snow flurries as we spent a day on the ridgeline.
Mountain ridges on the Keplar Track
We were so impressed by the hut facilities and friendliness of the DOC (Department of Conservation) wardens on the Walks but were perhaps a little ill-prepared to the fact that these walks have been somewhat manufactured and are maintained so that idiots could do them! We even thought that if we were a little fitter we would rather have run them. So we did enjoy them for what they were but it just meant that our desire to hike to the backcountry and spend a night in a rusty old hut was not yet fulfilled…
Enjoying being the only people in Lake Angelus Hut.
The cheeky kea that is more pesky than a pigeon in England and they will actually tear apart your gear if you leave it unattended outside.
Travel northwards a few hundred kilometres and you may catch up with us hiking glaciated peaks opposite Mount Cook (highest peak in NZ at 3800m approx), dodging rain and the first snowfall of winter in the Arthurs Pass region on various day walks, wading through snowdrifts up to my knees at Lake Angelus in the Nelson Lakes region, and timing tidal crossings (only just!) on day walks and overnight trips on the famous Abel Tasman Great Walk. When I say only just it means we thought crossing the tidal lagoon and wading almost up to my waist was better than the hour and a half slog around the edge! We made the decision, legged it and no turning back! We were totally safe for those that are worried – no danger of drowning just getting a little wet! Which we did anyway!
Dramatic clouds hang over Arthurs Pass.
On the way to Lake Angelus Hut.
Beautiful Abel Tasman
Cold, pink legs after our tidal lagoon crossing!
Inland of Abel Tasman is Kahurangi National Park is where we finally got our solitary night in a traditional old mustering hut first built in 1926.
We had a brilliant 6 hour hike up to Riordans Hut which we reached in time to gather and chop up some firewood and collect some water from the nearby stream. We then set about relaxing for a few hours before lighting the fire and enjoying some blue cheese, crackers and tawny Taylors port. Blumin’ marvellous! If ever you are to spend a night in a hut people, take some fine port and some strong cheese with you, it’s just what you need when the sun goes down and it starts to get chilly.
A stunning lost landscape on the way to Riordans Hut
The south island is sooo different from the north. Long and thin with a huge mountain range down one side. The southern Alps are just beautiful and we were lucky enough to have blue skies when we hiked near Mount Cook, which I hear is a rareity. Since hiking there the weather has made a mad dash for winter and there have been severe rainstorms and snowfall so we have been lucky enough to see the mountains both sunny and snowy.
Cheeky monkey and Mt Cook!
A few other things that filled our time on the south island:
Eating a Fergburger in Queenstown, twice.
Enjoying incredible autumn colours.
I went riding in LOTR film locations on Frodo the friendly horse.
Sampling fish and chips in various locations.
Jetboating in Queenstown.
Cruising on the Milford Sound in almost record rainfall (480mm in one night!)
Relaxing in the hot springs at Hanmer and at the Welcome Flats on the Copland Track.
Tasting a NZ delicacy, whitebait fritters.
Cycling the streets of Christchurch marvelling at the ability of the city to rejuvenate in the aftermath of the earthquakes.
We did a second help exchange stay just north of Christchurch on a sheep and beef farm where we were supposed to stay a week – we stayed for three! So I was clear this time before we got there that I really wanted to ride some proper horses and I was in luck. Olly has ridden all her life and while originally from Ireland, lived and rode in the UK for a while and was a successful event rider when she moved over to New Zealand. She had me working my guts out feeding, clipping, exercising but to me it all seemed like playing not working. I even taught a kids lesson while I was there! In return though I got some brilliant training on her lovely horses and was even lucky enough to take two different horses out hunting several times. One a youngster new to the game and one an old huntsmans horse and I had sensational days out on both of them!
While I was busy with the horses, Chris was busy learning new skills with David. He learned how to put up new fencing as well as how to fix the old, did some massive clearing of tree debris on flooded land and even learned how to use a wool press.
He even came out riding round the farm several times and I managed to tempt him into a mini lesson in the arena where he learned to jump! He was definitely chuffed after acheiving this and I was really pleased as after spending so long learning and appreciating his love for skiing, he could now do the same for me and riding!
The other thing we must mention from David and Ollys is the puppies! They were 5 weeks old when we arrived and were tiny and meek. By the time we left they were heavy, bitey, loud mouthed, troublesome pups who definitely knew that Chris was the one that the food and the running around and the cuddles came from! So cute but sadly no room to take one away in our van!
Thanks so much again for such a welcoming stay Olly and David. We felt truly at home and are very grateful for everything you did for us. We hope the pups have not caused you too much trouble since we’ve been gone?!
The south island is definitely more epic and more rugged and wild feeling than the north and we have absolutely filled our time here with multi-day hikes interspersed with a few other lovely things. We’ve felt our fitness and stamina improve as well as our ability to make some serious gourmet pesto spaghetti in the light of a hut fire!
We tackled many river crossings on our walks…
As I write this we have two weeks left where we plan to fit in two more overnight walks, some beverages and pizza in Wanaka combined with a few days skiing – just to make sure I haven’t forgotten how to do it! We are just waiting on the snow and then hopefully I can add some piste snaps here before I publish it!
It is with sadness we say goodbye to New Zealand. It has been our longest stop so far and we have just had the most fantastic time here. However, we have learned to look forward to the next exciting step and be grateful that we had the opportunity to be here.
A mere hop across the water to see an old friend…. Sydney here we come!
Sunset behind Lake Angelus